Moore v. Ford Motor Co., SC 90681.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri
Citation332 S.W.3d 749
Docket NumberNo. SC 90681.,SC 90681.
PartiesJeanne MOORE and Monty Moore, Appellants,v.FORD MOTOR COMPANY, Respondent.
Decision Date25 January 2011

332 S.W.3d 749

Jeanne MOORE and Monty Moore, Appellants,

No. SC 90681.

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc.

Jan. 25, 2011.Rehearing Denied March 29, 2011.

[332 S.W.3d 753]

Randall L. Rhodes and Christopher J. Stucky, Douthit, Frets, Rouse, Gentile & Rhodes LLC, Kansas City, and Stanley J. Goodkin, Stanley J. Goodkin PC, Clayton, for Moores.

[332 S.W.3d 754]

Dan H. Ball, Carole L. Iles, Stephen G. Strauss and Molly M. Jones, Bryan Cave LLP, St. Louis, for Ford.Thomas E. Rice Jr., Angela M. Higgins and Bryan E. Mouber, Baker Sterchi Cowden & Rice LLC, Kansas City, and Hugh F. Young Jr., Reston, VA, for Product Liability Advisory Council Inc., which filed a brief as a friend of the Court.LAURA DENVIR STITH, Judge.

Jeanne and Monty Moore appeal from the St. Louis County circuit court's judgment against them in their negligence and strict liability action against Ford Motor Company for paraplegia and other injuries that resulted when Ms. Moore's seat collapsed in a rear-end collision, causing her head to strike the back seat with severe force. At the close of the Moores' case-in-chief, the trial court granted a directed verdict in Ford's favor on the failure to warn claims. The jury found for Ford on the Moores' claim that the seats were defective and unreasonably dangerous because they were designed so that they were more likely to collapse in a rear-end collision when being used by an overweight person such as Ms. Moore.

This Court finds no error in the submission of the design defect claim and affirms the verdict for Ford on that cause of action. This Court agrees with the Moores, however, that the trial court erred in directing a verdict for Ford on the failure to warn claims. Contrary to the trial court's ruling, Missouri does recognize a failure to warn claim when the consumer shows she would not have purchased or would not have used an otherwise non-defective product that was rendered unreasonably dangerous because of the lack of adequate warning about the dangers the product posed to the class of users of which the plaintiff is a member. For these reasons, the judgment is affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case is remanded.1


In April 2005, the Moores purchased a 2002 Ford Explorer. On November 1, 2005, the day of the collision, Ms. Moore was 6 feet tall and weighed approximately 300 pounds. She was stopped to make a left turn in the Explorer when she was hit from behind by another vehicle. At impact, the driver's seat collapsed backward and Ms. Moore's head and shoulders hit the back seat, fracturing her T9 vertebra. The injury rendered Ms. Moore a paraplegic.

Ms. Moore and her husband sued Ford under theories of negligent failure to warn, strict liability failure to warn, negligent design and strict liability design defect. The Moores' counsel explained their failure to warn claims during his opening statement as follows:

The third reason we've sued Ford arises from simple common sense. Nowhere in the owner's manual or on the on-product labels did Ford tell people who might use the Explorer that it intended the front seats to collapse in a rear impact. That's information we contend in this trial that people are entitled to know before they sit in those front seats. Just as important, I think, that's information we contend in this case that people are entitled to know before they put their children or loved ones behind these seats. None of that information was given to consumers by Ford. If Jeanne and Monty would have been warned by

[332 S.W.3d 755]

Ford or instructed by Ford that the seats in the 2002 Explorer were intended to collapse in a rear impact, they may never have bought their car and we wouldn't be here (emphasis added).

At trial, Ms. Moore testified that she paid attention to weight warnings when she purchased products because of her size and because her husband and son were both tall and heavy. Ms. Moore testified that she routinely read warnings, instructions and manuals if they involved something in which she was interested. Ms. Moore further testified that, after she purchased the vehicle but prior to the wreck, she looked through the owner's manual for information about other matters and, in doing so, saw no listing of maximum weight limits for the front seats. Ms. Moore also testified that she saw no warnings that the seats of the Explorer might collapse backward in a rear-end impact. In her words, she “figured that, you know, if you had that you would go forward.” Ms. Moore further testified, without objection, that she would not have bought the Explorer had she known that the seats were not designed for people of her size. Ms. Moore then was asked whether she would have kept the Explorer if, after she bought the vehicle, she had found a warning in the owner's manual that the seats were not intended to protect people of her size. The court sustained Ford's objection that this testimony was speculative and lacked proper foundation. On cross-examination, Ms. Moore agreed that she had not been looking for seat weight limits specifically when she looked through the manual, that she had not checked her prior vehicles specifically for seat weight limits, and that she never saw seat weight limits listed in any of the vehicle manuals she had read.

Mr. Moore testified that his wife is the type of person who reads warnings and that he did not see any warnings or markings that the Explorer's seats were not designed for people of her size. Mr. Moore also testified, without objection, that had Ford provided some warning or indication that the seats in the Explorer were not designed for people of Ms. Moore's size, he would not have purchased the vehicle and would have done everything in his power to prevent his wife from riding in it.

At the close of the Moores' case, Ford moved for a directed verdict on all counts. In opposing this motion, the Moores further articulated why they had made a case on their failure to warn claims:

The subject Explorer is devoid of any warning whatsoever telling its customers like Jeanne that the seat in the Explorer is dangerously susceptible to breaking and collapsing in a mild to moderate impact when holding an occupant of Mrs. Moore's size and weight, or that this condition leads to a loss of restraint that can allow an occupant to strike the rear seat causing spinal cord injuries and paralysis.

(emphasis added).

The trial court granted the motion for directed verdict on the Moores' failure to warn claims. In its directed verdict motion, Ford argued that, under Arnold v. Ingersoll–Rand Co., 834 S.W.2d 192, 193 (Mo. banc 1992), a failure to warn claim could not be based on a “time of purchase” theory that the consumer would not have purchased the product had a more adequate warning been given. The trial court accepted Ford's argument that consumers must show that the warning would have affected their conduct at the time of the accident or injury. Once the partial directed verdict was granted, the Moores then dismissed their negligent design claim, leaving only their claim for strict liability design defect to be submitted to

[332 S.W.3d 756]

the jury. The jury returned a general verdict in favor of Ford. The Moores appealed. After opinion by the court of appeals, this Court accepted transfer. Mo. Const. art. V, § 10 .


In reviewing the grant of a motion for directed verdict, this Court “must determine whether the plaintiff made a submissible case....” Dunn v. Enterprise Rent–A–Car Co., 170 S.W.3d 1, 3 (Mo.App.2005). “A case may not be submitted unless each and every fact essential to liability is predicated upon legal and substantial evidence.” Investors Title Co. v. Hammonds, 217 S.W.3d 288, 299 (Mo. banc 2007). “An appellate court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff to determine whether a submissible case was made....” Tune v. Synergy Gas Corp., 883 S.W.2d 10, 13 (Mo. banc 1994). “The plaintiff may prove essential facts by circumstantial evidence as long as the facts proved and the conclusions to be drawn are of such a nature and are so related to each other that the conclusions may be fairly inferred.” Morrison v. St. Luke's Health Corp., 929 S.W.2d 898, 900 (Mo.App.1996). “Whether the plaintiff made a submissible case is a question of law subject to de novo review.” D.R. Sherry Const., Ltd. v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co., 316 S.W.3d 899, 905 (Mo. banc 2010). Further, with respect to evidentiary rulings, the trial court “enjoys considerable discretion in the admission or exclusion of evidence, and, absent clear abuse of discretion, its action will not be grounds for reversal.” State v. Mayes, 63 S.W.3d 615, 629 (Mo. banc 2001).

III. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN DIRECTING A VERDICT ON THE FAILURE TO WARN CLAIMSA. Failure to Warn of Higher Risk when Seats Used by Overweight Persons.

The Moores contend that they made a submissible case of strict liability for failure to warn in that the Explorer lacked any warnings that the front seats could collapse in rear impacts and were not tested or designed to perform with occupants of Ms. Moore's size.

The elements of a cause of action for strict liability failure to warn are: (1) the defendant sold the product in question in the course of its business; (2) the product was unreasonably dangerous at the time of sale when used as reasonably anticipated without knowledge of its characteristics; (3) the defendant did not give adequate warning of the danger; (4) the product was used in a reasonably anticipated manner; and (5) the plaintiff was damaged as a direct result of the product being sold without an adequate warning. Tune, 883 S.W.2d at 13.

In applying these elements, Missouri law recognizes that “a product may be rendered unreasonably dangerous and therefore actionable because of the absence of a warning concerning use or misuse, or because the warning that has been given is informationally...

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